Leeks are a new item in the share this fall, and one of those lovely, sort-of-strange-looking fall veggies that you may or may not find in the grocery store on a given day. A member of the Allium genus, leeks often play a role similar to that of the onion, but offer a more subtle flavor as they don’t have the sugars that onions do.
Our hope was to provide a few weeks worth of leeks this fall, but instead we’ll have a small amount for only one week, and here’s why. This summer, when our leek transplants arrived from our certified organic supplier out east, about three-quarters of the transplants had fallen out of the tray and died in transit. Our supplier refunded our expenses, but it was too late in the season to plant more. So, as my 5-year-old would say, “You get what you get, and you don’t throw a fit!” Really, though, this experience exemplifies what it means to be part of a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) rather than purchasing your produce from the grocery store or even a farmer’s market. We—the farm members and farmers—share in the risks and rewards of the farm. In this case, we take the small number of leeks and divide them equally among members. Other weeks this fall, we’ve distributed a surplus of spinach and radishes and offered pick-your-own of abundant field greens such as kale, Swiss chard, and collards.
Alright, back to the leeks. How do you actually use one? BonAppetit.com presents twelve different ways, and Deborah Madison offers several recipes in her book Vegetable Literacy, including a surprising and refreshing salad, “Young Leeks with Oranges and Pistachios.” For this week’s recipe, I made a few variations to Bon Appetit’s white chili recipe because it’s fall and nothing says fall to me quite like a steaming bowl of chili paired with a thick slice of cornbread.
A couple notes on prepping the leeks. First, make sure you thoroughly rinse your leeks—even though we’ve washed them after harvest, they have many layers and may still hide some dirt or sand.
Second, most recipes call for using only the white and pale green part of the leek, getting rid of the roots and upper greens. However, these “throwaway” parts can be used along with or in place of onions to flavor a vegetable stock.
Whether you decide to eat your leeks raw as a baked potato topping, or gently sautéed and paired with goat cheese, or in this chili recipe below, I hope you enjoy the delicate flavor that the leek offers to your meal.
Begin by prepping your veggies. Grab the leeks and cut away the roots and most of the greens, then dice the white and about 1 inch of the pale green part. Mince four garlic cloves, add these to the leeks and set aside until your other veggies are prepped.
Peel four medium-sized carrots, or, if these carrots are from your share, feel free to skip the peeling stage (I never peel our carrots from the farm). Then slice them into ½ inch rounds. Peel three medium or two large parsnips, cut them in half, and chop them into ½ inch pieces. One more root to go! Grab five radishes and cut them into quarters (or eighths, depending on their size)—make them about the same size as your chopped carrots and parsnips. Set this group of veggies to the side.
Heat one tablespoon of olive oil and one tablespoon of butter in a large pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. When the fats are sizzling, add the leeks and garlic and cook for about five minutes.
Dice about 2 teaspoons (4 sprigs) of fresh oregano, and measure out 1 teaspoon ground cumin and 1 teaspoon chili powder.
Add your seasonings, along with two teaspoons of salt, to the pot, and stir for about one minute. Then add the chopped carrots, parsnips, and radishes, stir well, and cook for five more minutes.
Next, it’s time to add your protein. Rinse 15 ounces (1 can) of Great Northern beans, then add these to the pot. Pour in 3 cups of chicken stock (or vegetable stock if you’d prefer a vegetarian soup—next time you make this you can use homemade stock flavored with leeks!). Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a gentle simmer, partially cover, and cook for 25 minutes, until the roots are tender and the flavors melded.
While the soup is cooking, prep one more veggie—your greens, of course! Roughly chop about two cups of kale, spinach, radish tops, or whatever green you prefer—I used Lacinato (dinosaur) kale. At the very end of your cooking time, toss the greens in the pot and let cook for a few minutes more. The last step is to take a little taste and add more salt if needed.
Serve topped with crème fraîche or grated Gruyère. Enjoy!
Scroll down for the printable of this recipe. What veggies do you like to use in your chili?
Photography and Food Styling: Julie Oudman Perkins